I remember in February, when I released my second mock draft of the 2011 NFL draft season, I had to go on "Mike & Mike" the following morning. We'd barely greeted each other before I was posed a question. From then on, our conversation on the show completely surrounded one debate: How could I have Cam Newton that high in the draft?
At the time, I had him No. 3 to the Buffalo Bills before later moving him up to No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers. I told them something that seemed to blow them away, and it also sounds odd to hear myself say it. But it's something I still believe today: I've been in this business for 33 years, and I've never seen a quarterback with the upside of Cam Newton. Never.
I didn't say polish, arm strength, certainty to succeed, accuracy or speed. I said upside -- that innate total package of talent that seems to make the guy capable of anything. He wasn't Tim Duncan at 22, where you had a clear sense of a great player, like we have with Andrew Luck now. No, he was LeBron James at 17 -- you didn't know what would happen, but you could see the array of gifts so clearly, you just had to shrug. Last November, when he first landed on the Big Board after just eight D-I games and I was told to explain why, I wrote, "There isn't one aspect to Newton's remarkable physical skill set that I would call a negative."
But that doesn't mean Newton wasn't a massive risk for Carolina. In fact, because the Panthers drafted him at No. 1, he was one of the biggest risks in draft history.